They had nothing to say to each other, thirty
children in a camp.
Plucked like hard green mangoes, sharp with the tang
of distrust; and deposited,
sweating nervous mango-milk,
into a single gunny bag-
not knowing what to expect-
But fear, of course- that was always expected,
They had been taught to expect it from their mother’s lap.
So they held their faces carefully blank, as taught;
expressionless- behind still masks
sullen suspicion lurking. Always on their guard,
what was coming next?
Thirty silent vessels, full to overbrimming
with their generations’ hate,
Poured in like boiling oil; by fathers, grandfathers
uncles brothers old women frightened mothers,
black, bubbling, angry.
annointed into heated scalps by nervous mothers,
anxious in their aching love-
the stench of cold sweat,
and a mother’s fearful whisper,
“Never trust their kind.”-
till it seeps into pulsing, frightened brains…
So they had nothing to say to each other.
and on the first day they slept
huddled together at night, on two separate sides
of the room.
The second day passed in silence.
Eyes meeting eyes, then quickly averted,
A hand once brushing accidentally another,
then snatched back as if scorched-
as if surprised to find it made of warm flesh, too.
Narrowed eyes trying to evaluate
this strange new finding-
they were made of skin and flesh too,
the “other kind”?
On the third day, someone- was it you, my lovely Saya?
You with your chirping voice, bright with little bells- started
singing a song in your tongue.
and, slowly, they joined in, the ones who knew;
and the others, mumbling to the tune, fumbled with the strange,
and like the sun breaking through the monsoon skies-
the first smile, shooting up from under parched soil,
to struggle above the dry-cracked earth, a green shoot-
And suddenly, the black oil shifted
thickly, like seas parting, in the depths of dark eyes.
The lurid film melting like a storm cloud
clearing, and the first tear fell to a waiting earth-
Dissolved, and in parched throats where, stuck fast like sticky boiled sweets
in solid thickness, congealed black muck finally gave way-
and freed tongues came up
gasping for air-
and hands, so much alike
brown-skinned, light-palmed; hands
passed down from generations that had watered
this land with their blood and sweat. Hands clasp, unslipping,
and the smile through tears, “My brother,”- and, in the same breath,
And the first arm- was it yours, Falaah? My quiet boy with the gentle smile-
stretched out in offering, a mouthful of rice to his neighbor-
was he Sinhalese? a Muslim? Who knew? Who saw?- in the flurry that followed,
Thirty hands feeding each other, thirty arms embracing,
thirty faces blurred with laughter and tears, clamouring
to feed another a mouthful- “This time from me, this time from me!”
and salt, mixing in the white rice,
fell on wounds-
the blackened blisters, livid burns,
slow, angry boils- that the black oil had left,
and, slow but sure, they felt the healing begin
Pawan Kalugala – part of a longer poem – in the Newletter of Sri Lanka Unites
Last week, the world was outraged by the brutal killing by religious extremists of an off-duty British soldier outside his barracks in south-east London. Of course, sectarian killngs are now taking place with sickening regularity throughout the world but when they happen, we need to continue condemning them in the strongest possible terms. It was good to find Dr Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, Co-Chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum at a joint Press Conference, and together with leaders of all faiths groups condemn this ghastly murder. In this case, the murder does not appear to have been the work of an organization but of some mavericks who took it upon themselves to be ‘defenders of the faith’ (sic). That said, it is well known that even governments are guilty of gross violations of human rights. In the US, the incarceration of civilians in Guantanamo Bay is a scandal and a violation of one of President Obama’s election pledges. In Sri Lanka, the violation of basic human rights and the rule of law is part of ongoing history.
This columnist and the concerned citizens of Sri Lanka must be grateful to Suriya Wickremasinghe and the Civil Righs Movement of Sri Lanka, the indefatigable champions of civil liberties and the rule of law in our country for over forty years for drawing our attention to the words of Paul Sieghart from his Preface to The Lawful Rights of Mankind: An introduction to the International Legal Code of Human Rights (OUP1985):
“Down to the end of the second world war, it was a matter of universally accepted doctrine in international affairs that how a state treated its own citizens was a matter entirely for its own sovereign determination, and not the legitimate concern of anyone outside its own frontiers. Had a well-meaning delegation from abroad called on Chancellor Adolf Hitler in 1936 to complain about the notorious Nürnberg laws, and the manner in which they were being applied to persecute German Jews, the Führer would probably have dismissed such an initiative with the classic phrase of ‘an illegitimate interference in the internal affairs of the sovereign German State’, pointing out that these laws had been enacted in full accordance with the provisions of the German Constitution, by an assembly constitutionally and legally competent to enact them, and that neither they nor their application were the concern of any meddling foreigners. And, in international law as it then stood, he would have been perfectly right – and so would Party Secretary-General Josef Stalin have been if a similar delegation had called on him at around the same time to complain about the wholesale liquidation of the kulaks in the Soviet Union.
Were such delegations to call today on some of the world’s living tyrants to complain about the injustice of some of their laws, those protests too would doubtless be dismissed with the same phrase. But, in international law as it stands today, those tyrants would be wrong. For since Hitler’s and Stalin’s time there has been a change in international law so profound that it can properly be called a revolution. Today, for the first time in history, how a sovereign state treats its own citizens is no longer a matter for its own exclusive determination, but a matter of legitimate concern for all other states, and for their inhabitants.
The formal product of that revolution is a detailed code of international law laying down rights of individuals against the states which exercise power over them, and so making these individuals the subjects of legal rights under that law, and no longer the mere objects of its compassion.”
No two standards on hatred
We cannot have two standards for judging racial or religious hatred. There is absolutely no justification for hate crimes, in whatever context it is committed. In Britain, there is a group called the English Defence League, a far right racist organisation, the equivalent of the racial and/or religious extremist organisations here that have been aggressively asserting themselves in recent times in Sri Lanka, and obviously enjoying powerful political and Police support. In the immediate aftermath of the killing of the British soldier, there a surge in support for the English Defence League. But as the knee-jerk reaction gave way to calmer reflection, that initial support for the EDL has now dwindled. There is something in the British political culture that, while being tolerant of harmless mavericks and political dissenters, is hard on those who engage in hatred and violence. Where else would you find a political party by the name Raving Loony Party led by a man who calls himself Lord Sutch, who has been contesting every election for decades, never failing to make his contribution to the Exchequer by way of forfeiting his election deposit. And where else would you find minorities and immigrants treated with the dignity and respect that they receive in Britain.
In Sri Lanka, people of all communities, racial and religious have been living together at peace with each other for hundreds of years. There have occasionally been conflicts but these were rarely allowed to get of hand. except when ambitious political figures seeking a quick route to power, meddled in these conflicts. This continues to this day. We need to give the appropriate answer to those who seek to destroy the peace, unity and tolerance that prevails among all communities in our country, particularly in the rural areas. Organisations such as Sri Lanka Unites from whose Newsletter we have quoted this week need to be encouraged and supported. So also individuals who strive for unity among all communities, and for mutual respect and understanding of each other need to be heard. Sri Lankans cannot remain trapped in isolationism imposed on her by self-seeking politicians. It is in that spirit that we began this week by a quote from Sri Lanka Unites, an organisation of young people, mainly students, that began during the “war” and which has grown to over 25000 active members covering all 25 districts and over a hundred schools and end with a quote from a respected religious dignitary, well known for his pluralism and liberalism.
A Messaqe on Vesak Day from a Christian Bishop
We reproduce in full the message issued by Bishop Duleep de Chickera, the former Anglican Bnshop of Colombo and issued on Vesak Day 2013
My Esteem for the Buddha
An open letter at Wesak to my Buddhist Sisters and Brothers
My good friend, the Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana wrote a letter to Christians on his understanding of Christ at Christmas last year. This has prompted me to reciprocate with this letter to you at Wesak.
A seekers vision.
I write in my personal capacity as a disciple of Christ, a student of Buddhism and one who perceives the universal wisdom and values in world religions as gifts for all and not just the adherents of a respective religion.
This is not an attempt to teach you what you know better than I; but an expression of my profound respect for the Buddha and the potential I see in the Dhamma for compassion, contentment and coexistence for all life. I know you will be patient with any shortcomings in my perception of Buddhism.
Compassion for all life
I have never ceased to be stirred by the Buddha’s compassion for all living beings; and not humans only. This all inclusive compassion makes sense, since compassion for humans only, if accompanied with disrespect for other forms of life upsets the balance in an interdependent life system. Consequently compassion for humans only, is short sighted and counter-productive; it inevitably induces chaos for all forms of life, including humans.
Within this wider framework however this teaching has a direct impact on critical human relations such as ethnic discrimination, inter-religious tensions, economic injustice, political intolerance and the collapse of ethical norms that we wrestle with today. Since compassion according to the Buddha is never selective and will not endorse divisive and oppressive systems, it is full of potential to transform these exclusive and destructive trends into a just and integrated system for all life.
Liberation from Tanha
From my early adult days I have found the Buddha’s analysis of the cycle of life in the four noble truths, most enlightening. His discernment of Tanha as the cause of suffering is a precise explanation of the human dilemma. The inordinate greed for power, dominance, wealth and material resources that motivate many, leads to aggression, suppression and suffering which eventually destroys all; the greedy, the content and Mother Earth.
The objective of life is consequently to overcome Tanha. This path ranges from the simple life style, which demonstrates contentment; to detachment, that state of selflessness which rises above the enticement of the market, the arsenal and a false sense of prestige and is undoubtedly a sign of true liberation.
The fullest manifestation of selfless detachment is demonstrated in total renunciation; the ability to point to the way by getting out of the way. This profound insight into self-emptying is an indispensible lens for personal and social evaluation which our leaders and people cannot afford to ignore.
The Wisdom of Ahimsa
That the Dhamma is received through self-realisation and bears fruit in Ahimsa, (transforming non-violence) safeguards personal privacy and prevents social aggression. Just as the Dhamma cannot be subject to force or manipulation to bring enlightenment, recipients of the Dhamma cannot indulge in these tendencies and to the contrary strive to overcome them. This, in my understanding, is how surrounding forms of life are respected and the Dhamma shared with dignity in ever widening circles.
This refreshing option to violence is undoubtedly one of the reasons that has made Buddhism a world religion. Consequently it is those who are the vehicles of this enlightened, non-violent and compassionate teaching who will continue to sustain and commend Buddhism today.
May the Dhamma of the Compassionate One, shed enlightenment and emancipate our beloved Sri Lanka from greed and violence.
With Peace and Blessings to all living beings.
Bishop Duleep de Chickera